(The following is an excerpt from an interview I did with Chris Dupuis for the Nov 5th issue of Xtra! magazine. Chris’ full story will appear there and at Time and Space: A Forum for Critical Discussion of Contemporary Art, Performance and Politics. Check xtra.ca and timeandspacemagazine.com )
Chris Dupuis: How have you been able to deconstruct the ideals of beauty while at the same time trying to achieve it? How does this come up in your show?
Nina: I used a lot of the things that have traditionally been used to oppress women into stereotypically feminine beauty: make-up, styled hair, cosmetic procedures, fashion –but instead of reproducing society’s standard of beauty I took things too far. Lip liner that was too pronounced. Lashes that were too long for most women during the day. Night time make-up looks during the day. I think the fact that my appearance is constructed was exposed because I accented and highlighted the artificiality of my glamour. People could look at me and see the elements that produced a visual effect.
In many ways advertising, fashion magazines, female celebrities and porn transmit idealized images of women and femininity. I have a hate-love relationship to these images. I don’t so much recreate them as I reinterpret them through my own aesthetic. I make them more extreme. Sometimes I think that is my knowing wink of irony from inside that imagery -that I don’t take it that seriously. But at other times I don’t think I’m being ironic at all because I love dressing up and decorating my body. It goes back and forth.
But it wasn’t as if I was working with this knowledge and trying to achieve this intellectual analysis while I was having plastic surgery. I was following my instincts, doing things to my body that made me come to peace with it, that made me excited and proud of my body –often because I felt desperately uncomfortable in my prior physical form.
The play gives insights into some of the moments when I made decisions about altering myself –where I was emotionally and psychologically at the time. And the people who inspired me along the way.
I think a very important central decision for me that most transsexuals I know don’t make -maybe because they don’t have to – is that I decided that even though I feel I’m a woman inside that I don’t have to try to emulate or reproduce a middle class heteronormative idea of what a woman is supposed to be. I do not think I’m a “normal” woman who was trapped in a male body -that I’d be just like other women if I had a sex change. That cultural soundbyte doesn’t begin to emcompass the complexity of my experience. My experience of growing up queer, inside a male body, socialized as a male, living with male priviledge for 20 yrs, has made me who I am. I like being queer, and I like having a queer aesthetic which I’ve absorbed and reiterpreted from heterosexual desire. Being unique and different makes my life very challenging sometimes, but if I’m going to be true to myself i don’t see any way around it.
(Chris Dupuis is a former champion equestrian, ballet school dropout, and mildly successful catalogue model. His video and performance works have been presented at galleries, theatres, and festivals, across North America and Europe. He has held resident artist positions at Harbourfront Centre, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre and The Canadian Stage Company (Toronto), Studio 303 and OUT Productions (Montreal), the Banff Centre for the Arts (Banff), and the Poortgebouw (Rotterdam, Netherlands). He spent four years as an associate artist with the New York/Toronto-based interdisciplinary performance collective bluemouth inc. and in 2004 received the Dora Mavor Moore Award for Outstanding Production with the company for their five hour multi-location epic Something About a River.)